Widespread Adoption of Plant-Forward Flexitarian Diet Decreases Global Warming Risk By 50 Percent: Report

New research published in the journal Science Advances, has found that adopting a more sustainable, flexitarian diet could substantially enhance the feasibility of achieving the ambitious 1.5 degrees Celcius climate target outlined in the Paris Agreement. This diet, known as the EAT-Lancet Planetary Health Diet, emphasizes a varied intake of plant-based foods and significantly reduces the consumption of livestock products, particularly in higher and middle-income areas, while also limiting added sugars. According to the research, conducted by scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), such dietary changes could extend the current global carbon dioxide budget by 125 gigatons, effectively allowing for a 50 percent chance of remaining within the 1.5 degrees Celcius warming limit.

“We find that a more sustainable, flexitarian diet increases the feasibility of the Paris Agreement climate goals in different ways,” Florian Humpenöder, PIK scientist and co-lead author of the study, said in a statement.

“The reduction of greenhouse gas emissions related to dietary shifts, especially methane from ruminant animals raised for their meat and milk, would allow us to extend our current global CO2 budget of 500 gigatons by 125 gigatons and still stay within the limits of 1.5 degrees Celcius with a 50-percent chance,” he added.

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The research highlights the importance of implementing policies that price greenhouse gas emissions within the energy and land systems as a critical measure to maintain the warming limit. A shift toward a more sustainable diet has been shown to reduce the environmental impact of food production and lower greenhouse gas emissions from these systems significantly. “Our results show that compared to continued dietary trends, a more sustainable diet not only reduces impacts from food production within the land system, such as deforestation and nitrogen losses. It also reduces GHG emissions from the land system to such an extent that it cuts economy-wide 1.5 degrees Celcius-compatible GHG prices in 2050 by 43 percent,” explains co-lead author Alexander Popp, leader of the working group land-use management at PIK. “Moreover, healthy diets would also reduce our dependency on carbon dioxide removal in 2050 by 39 percent.”

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However, the study also notes that significant challenges remain in implementing these dietary shifts. The fragmented nature of decision-making in food policy across various institutions and ministries complicates the establishment of coherent policies promoting healthy diets. Furthermore, ensuring social inclusion and proper compensation mechanisms is crucial for transitioning to these healthier dietary practices.

“The results indicate that a shift in our diets could make a considerable difference if we do not want to crash through the 1.5 degrees Celcius limit in the next 10 to 15 years,” said Johan Rockström, director of PIK and co-author of the study. “This calls for globally concerted efforts to support the transition towards sustainable healthy diets.”

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